A Day in Liverpool

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Moby Dick

What comes to your mind when you think of Liverpool? Football? The Beatles? Whining self-pity? For me it’s both the Big Bad City of my childhood, taken there on shopping trips, and the place where I spent four years at the university, steeped in a city like no other. In both cases it was a place full of energy but also one that was shabby and neglected. When I found out that the Barrow Ramblers were doing a day trip I jumped at the chance. Even if most of them were going either for the shopping or to see how the city is reinventing itself during its year as European Capital of Culture.

Me, I was doing neither. I was looking for ghosts. Or, to be more precise, to find old things, to see what had survived the reinvention. The first thing I did on leaving the coach was to dive into Lime Street station to buy an all-zone Saveaway ticket. The second thing was to leave Liverpool, taking the Merseyrail underground to Hamilton Square in Birkenhead across the Mersey. The square is one of England’s secret gems, and please don’t repeat this too widely. A perfectly-preserved Georgian garden square in an unfrequented location. I had a vague notion of finding Birkenhead Market (forgetting that it burned down years ago), and I intended to return to Liverpool on the Woodside ferry for the spectacular views of the waterfront as well as being on a boat on the open river in the sunshine. That was not to be. The old ferry that ran every fifteen minutes after you walked down a simple gangplank to the jetty, drinking in the sea smells on the way, is a thing of the past. Now the ferry runs once an hour and the terminal is a sanitised, interpreted ‘experience’. Bleugh!

So, I returned by underground, one stop to James Street, and from there crossed to Dale Street by way of the Town Hall, and back across North John Street to enter the maze if tawdriness that is the “Cavern Quarter”. My target being The Grapes in Mathew Street, a splendid pub that has by some miracle escaped the tackiness outside. Seeing the best of Liverpool inevitably means visiting the glorious interiors of the best of Liverpool’s pubs, and where better to begin than with lunch at the very table where the Beatles sat after a sweaty night in the basement across the street.

From there I walked up Church Street (plundering Lush on the way), Bold Street and Leece Street into bohemian Liverpool, the pre-Beatles Liverpool of artists, beat poets and jazz; of Ye Cracke (still there) and O’Connor’s Tavern (defunct but building still inhabited). From there via the magnificent Philharmonic Hotel to the University (my Alma Mater!) and thence by Grove Street, Canning Street and Catharine Street (once the blackened, shattered shell of a once prosperous district; now finding itself again after partially surviving the bulldozer) to Peter Kavanagh’s in Egerton Street, another legendary pub of the old school. Then a bus to Greenbank Drive for a peek at Rathbone Hall, where I lived for two terms, and a further bus to Tuebrook to see if the student house I spent three years in was still there. It was – and furthermore had been spruced up to something like respectability.

That was it. There was too little time. I could have done a lot more, but what I did do was uplifting. I realised once more why I loved Liverpool, but I’m happy that on the whole the reinvention of the city has been positive. Most importantly, it’s lost that cloud of self-pity that used to seep into everything. It’s a happy, confident city now and the scouse character emerges triumphant. Nowhere I went did I find anything less than a friendly welcome. And while friendliness and helpfulness is a northern characteristic, it’s only in Liverpool that strangers make you feel it’s fun to know you.

There’s a fully-annotated photo set here if you are interested.


6 Responses to “A Day in Liverpool”

  1. tvor Says:

    Enjoyed your write up and photos but the link above to the photos is wrong, doesn’t point to the flickr site.

  2. LyzzyBee Says:

    Brilliant – lovely photos too. Funnily enough, an old University friend and I did the same in Birmingham yesterday – one old house of ours, one of mine, a good go round the campus (yeh, I know I work there!) and then a quick shimmy round Town. National Day of the Alumni?

  3. enitharmon Says:

    Whoopsie Diane! It was late and I was tired. Now corrected…

  4. Vicky Says:

    My memories of Liverpool start at Tranmere oil terminal. I used to go there to visit Capt Ex on tankers, sometimes with daughters. I recall having trouble getting in on one occasion, as if I would be a visiting tart, complete with two offsprung.

    I also recall the underground, vaguely? Not many stops. We went to Rock Ferry but I think that might have been a mistake. And there was the theatre too. It had a good company. And We went to the main water front and on the ferry too, and through a car tunnel, a toll tunnel.

    I think I went up to join the ship by train once at least, arriving at Lime St station.

  5. Peter Says:

    So which cathedral? I thought I’d prefer the RC, but the Anglican carries it for me in the end with its solid grandeur.

  6. enitharmon Says:

    Peter – I agree, it has to be the Anglican one for its sheer austere enormousness. The west end no longer ends in a wall of breeze blocks as it did when you and me were there.

    The RC one is more impressive inside than out and the use of light is pretty spectacular. I’d still like to slip into a parallel universe (Looks wistfully at kitchen knife) in which the original plan was fully realised, just to see whether it was amazing or just over the top.

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